One damp, cold evening in February, I sat down to watch some TV once the kids were asleep in bed. There wasn’t much on, so we flicked through Netflix and came across a Gwyneth Paltrow GOOP show on cold-water therapy. I wasn’t that bothered about watching the show, but Fernanda had been following the series.
On it, was a guy from Holland who was extolling the wonders of cold water swimming, showers and rolling around in the snow. He seemed a little eccentric but was an interesting guy to watch. Wim Hof is indeed eccentric, but he had a mountain of data to back up his belief that we’ve all become too comfortable, with our warm clothes, houses, and food 3 x per day, with more on tap, so we never feel uncomfortable.
Hof talked about how humankind was never built to be so comfortable, and it was built to suffer hardship. This was what the body needs to keep healthy and stave off disease. Ok, now he was making some interesting points, and my interest was piqued. I put my book down and watched the rest of the show. He took a group of people, with no experience of cold water and had them going for a swim (dip) in Lake Tahoe in mid-winter. No-one appeared to drop out, and they all swam in icy cold water. All were freaked out by the experience and said that they felt more alive than they’d felt previously. All had positive experiences and talked about previous feelings of anxiety, depression, negativity, all melting away. Wim Hof spoke about how this experience of cold water brings us back to our ancestors. It was an interesting case study.
Around the same time, there was another show. ‘Easy Ways to Live Well’ on TV by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, again looking at the power of changing diet, mindset and cold-water therapy to reduce stress. Hugh found that regular swimming in the sea had a positive impact. So much so, that he continued his experiment for over a year ensuring that he took cold showers on the days that he didn’t swim.
Well, I guess it had an impact on me because I decided to take a cold shower the following day. I started my shower as I always have, on hot, then gradually reduced to a tepid, but not much colder than that, I bottled out. I tried the next morning again. I got the temperature down to what I thought was freezing and stood under the cool water for a minute or so. By the end of the week, I was up to a couple of minutes, and each time was making the shower slightly colder.
Now I faff around a lot less, I get into a tepid shower, then twist the temp round to mains cold. It is freezing but invigorating. I’ve yet to have a cold bath, but cold showers are part of my daily routine. I’ve not had a hot shower since February.
I’m hesitant to bring this part up, but since February, I’ve not had so much as a sniffle, no colds or any other illness. I hope this doesn’t mean that tomorrow I’ll go down with one, but one of the advantages mentioned by Wim Hof was that the body’s defences would be boosted by doing this and you should suffer fewer colds and illness.
Since then, I’ve found taking cold showers to be both beneficial to my physical and mental health. I’ve not missed a day. Sometimes I’ll take two, one in the morning and one in the evening. After a run, it’s great to hop straight into a cold shower. When you get out of the shower, your skin is tingling, and you feel energised and buzzing. It’s almost addictive. I’ve certainly no intention of stopping.
Footnote: Since writing this, I stumbled on this link to the BBC, which also talks about the supposed benefits of cold-water shock and therapy. And here’s another story from the BBC on the Danes who swim year round.